Paint A Vivid Setting

And now for something completely different!

The Prompt

Write a story in which the setting is key


  • Choose a setting for your story based on a real place that you know intimately. You can change details, of course, but this just makes it easier to summon up images in your mind. You can change it to be it futuristic, or historical, or on another planet, but base your buildings on building as you know, base the weather on whether you understand. Use your experiences to make this story shine.
  • Sometimes we worry too much about plot and forget the story is NOT just about the things that are happening. A reader wants to be sucked into the story. They want to be able to see and feel everything the characters are seeing and feeling. Having a strong setting, a strong sense of where they are in space and time, can really help with this.
  • In a short story we don’t have a lot of space. It’s important for every element of the story to serve multiple functions. Setting can provide atmosphere. It can echo or heightened emotions, and it can tell us a lot about the time, place, characters, and mood of your story.
  • Think about your grandmother’s house and how it was decorated and furnished. Didn’t that tell you a lot about who you were going to find living in that house? Think about the houses in Architecture Digest magazine. Who would you expect to find living in one of those houses?
  • Atmosphere, weather, climate, all of these things can enhance or echo your character’s situation and emotion. Storms speak of peril. Humidity makes things feel oppressive. If the trees are bare we know it’s winter.
  • Simple details like whether or not there are weeds growing up through the paving can tell is a lot about the neighborhood in which your character finds themselves.
  • Don’t worry about creating a complicated or original plot in this story. The exercise here is to practice using setting to enhance the simple story that you’re telling. Choose a character, give them a simple mission, and build the reader’s experience into a feast.
  • Use all five senses. “Cinematic writing” can be good, but it means you’re only using your eyes. Use sounds to hear things, use the feel of things, the smell of things, the taste of things — even if the person isn’t eating, the tang of something-in-the-air can tell us whether we are near the sea, or near a decomposing body, or whatever it is that your story needs. Using all five senses will make your reader unable to separate themselves from the story, which is what you want.

Leave a comment and share what kind of setting you used. How’s the challenge going? Got any tips for the rest of us? Share them now!

24 thoughts on “Paint A Vivid Setting”

  1. Comment on prompt:I liked this Setting prompt. I wrote what I could, time and energy permitting, and then summarized some parts parts towards the end. I really want to work on this more, and like the idea of starting with a setting. I used a house that had meaning for me in the past, and went back and forth from then to now.

  2. These have been such great days!11 days of writing, every day. Thank you, Julie, for inspiring me. 🙂

  3. Interesting prompt because I was able to take a setting I know and turn it a bit so that it became a piece of science fiction. Thank you.

  4. This challenge has so far been really challenging and rewarding. I’ve written more new stories, and injected juice into old stories, than I have in a long time. This prompt was difficult, but not insurmountably so. I’m excited to see what the rest of the month brings! Here are snippets of all the stories I’ve worked on so far this month: http://wp.me/P45IPu-BM

  5. This was a great prompt!

    I imagined my Nan’s house which was really dark and spooky to me as a kid, and the story was just one little girl going to the loo and having to deal with a spider. It was great fun to write.

    Thanks for the prompt!

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